CLASSICAL YOGA AND MEDITATION
I am planning to start a new class (Deep relaxation and Meditation) over the summer... I’ve wanted to do this for a long time, but haven’t felt really ready until now... The courses I am currently studying (classical yoga philosophy and Yoga Nidra) have given me the final inspiration.. And I want to explain to you (as brief as I can), how they are connected.
So first, let me again go back to some basic principles of two branches of Indian philosophy.
The atheistic Samkhya philosophy provides a very good image of how we work.
According to Samkhya, what lies behind the universe, are two dualistic forces - on one side there is pure consciousness (Purusha) and on the other there is Nature in all it’s gross and subtle forms (Prakriti). Only when Purusha and Prakriti merge together, life begins to express itself in ever changing, endless forms. Everything in nature is therefor infused and driven by pure consciousness.
Each human being, is alive, because of it’s own individual Purusha (called Atman). This Atman (or “soul”), is our true self, the same essence everything else in the Universe consists of.
In fusing with Prakriti, it sets in motion a creative energy which (maybe similar to the earth itself) cools and lowers it’s frequency, creating “sheaths” of energy, around the atman which become denser and denser and eventually resulting in the physical body.
Pancha = five
Kosha = sheath
The non-dualistic Vedanta branch of indian philosophy is all about mystical knowledge. Their scriptures have a description of how consciousness forms matter and the soul and the body form a complete being (there are similar variations of the same concept in Samkhya and other views of indian philosophy but I find this a particularly clear one):
Atman, the soul, is first surrounded by, and connected to a very subtle and large sheath, extending outward around the physical body, called the bliss body, which is closest to our true self (Ananda Maya Kosha). It is all about that connection to our true self, and as is with all true connections, is equated to love. It is called the bliss body because of the feeling it creates when we tap into it (for example when we are in love or in deep meditation). However it is also connected to our less subtle bodies and we therefor rely on outer circumstances to be able to perceive it.
As the frequency becomes lower, the energy changes into a slightly less subtle sheath, extending out a little less around the physical body, called the Wisdom or Intelligence Body or the “higher Mind” (Jnana Maya Kosha), which constitutes our intuition and higher intelligence. It also produces a sense of individuality or I-ness (Ahamkara), which we call the Ego.
The next sheath, a little more dense, is the emotional or mind body, or the “lower mind” (Mana Maya Kosha), which is connected to our senses, deals with sensual impressions and communicates between the nervous system and the higher mind. It is through operating from this sheath that we do things that are not "wise", because our senses enjoy it (for example eating or drinking too much).
Next comes the vital energy body or breath body (Prana Maya Kosha), which is our life force and vitality. It is the force that motivates our bodily functions, the energy that sustains us. It is the energy that flows through the system of energy vessels (nadis) and connects our physical to the mental bodies. The chakra system is a part of this sheath.
Finally, at the lowest frequency and the densest form, the physical body, or food body (Anna Maya Kosha) is formed.
The true self (Atman)
According to indian philosophy, atman, our inner true self, is ultimate reality, spirit, soul, eternal. It is pure consciousness, free and unlimited in potential. It is pure joy and happiness, without dependency on external circumstance.
It is the same in us as in everyone, as in the whole universe (purusha). All beings are connected through it and are in essence the same.
If this is true, why are we not always happy?
We seem to be making one constant and fatal mistake that stands in the way of our true happiness.
We don’t identify with atman. We identify with every other aspect of our being, aspects of all our five sheaths, but not our true self.
We see ourselves as being a body. We say “I am fat, I am skinny. I am tall.”. We experience ourselves as our pranic body, we say, I am weak, I am strong, I am healthy, I am sick.” We often identify with our mind, we think “I am angry, I am sad, I am lonely”. Also, we identify with our higher mind, our intelligence, we say “I am clever, I am knowledgable, I am stupid.”.
Our Ego (Ahamkara) has the role of distinguishing us from the world around us, so it always finds ways to do so. It takes different aspects of our personality and (falsely) turns them into ourselves, always being anxious to preserve us.
We identify with roles like I am a wife, a mother, a husband, an artist, a baker, a chef.
We think we are clever or talented, and we like the world around us to think so too.
But all this is ever changing. Our true self is steady and eternal, yet we identify with everything that changes. No wonder we are stressed.
We move from one to the other, trying to hold on and mold the world and the people around us into a “perfect” and reliable world, which we can control and will make us happy. But it never does.
We then blame others or the world for our unhappiness.
But all we need to do is to recognise who we really are and identify with our true, inner self.
If only it were that simple..
Classical Yoga and Meditation
How do we detangle ourselves from all this activity in our mind? As important our ego is in our lives, we cannot let it take the place of our true self or we will be forever chasing after the illusion of happiness.
We first need to relax and calm the mind with all it’s activity. In fact, we need to relax and calm clear away blockages and agitations from all 5 sheaths of our being in order to be able to see clearer and sink closer into our centre and begin to sense our true self.
The most important scripture of classical Yoga, Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, has given us a practical 8 step plan (you can read about it in my previous blog) in order to connect truly with ourselves and even, if practiced daily and diligently and through renunciation of worldly life, will eventually lead to enlightenment (the ultimate awakening and true identification with atman).
But we don’t even have to reach this far. According to Patanjali, no amount of practice is a waste of time. Every minute of practice leads to some success in reaching happiness. Even if we "only" get to connect with the higher mind, calming our sense mind, it is a success. If we get even glimpses of the bliss body, as will eventually happen with regular practice, it is a great success.
The more we can clear our minds, relax our body and nervous system, the closer we can get to our inner self, the happier we will be and the less dependent we will be on outer circumstances.
Anyone who practices Yoga and/or Meditation on a regular basis will probably experience this effect to some extend.
To effectively prepare for a more successful meditation, this very old system suggests to work on all the outer sheaths first, starting with the densest and most accessible - the physical body (anna maya kosha) and working through prana maya kosha, all the way to hopefully reach the bliss body (ananda maya kosha) and from there, begin to feel the true connection with atman.
Ideally this is done by practicing Yoga postures, pranayama and meditation on a daily basis - but of course most of us who live family lives do not have the time to spare for so much practice.
And although of course, what you will gain is always relative to what you are willing to invest, you can still gain a vast amount by putting in just a very small amount of time and effort.
So in a class, we will consciously connect and get to know our Koshas through methods like pranayama (breathing techniques), Yoga Nidra (“Sleep” Yoga - a method of systematically calming and clearing all five koshas), and a variety of meditation practices from the yogic and buddhist traditions.
So, I hope that this post helped you to understand this particular point of view a little better and you have a little more insight into the structure and meaning of this class...
However if this all left you more confused than before, please don’t let this put you off, as I promise you, once we begin, there will be not much talking about philosophy, but more actual practice, and it will certainly leave you feeling a lot more relaxed, centered & collected and de-stressed and you may also find that all the difficulties life sometimes throws at us will look a lot less threatening..